Riding on Salt and Sand - ''The Salt''

Bonneville Salt Flats

The fact that you're reading this probably means you've been to a motorcycle event or two. That could mean anything from a Sunday afternoon poker run with a few dozen friends to riding to Sturgis with half a million of your new best friends. What's not to like about good food, cold beer, old friends, and vendors selling all things motorcycle? Music from country rock to heavy metal plays all day long as we shuffle from booth to booth, looking for the new chrome bauble or leather jacket that we just can't live without while we wait for the wet T-shirt contest to start. These are all good events and a big part of the two-wheeled culture.

There is an event that you may have heard of, but chances are you've never attended: the International Motorcycle Speed Trials by BUB on the Bonneville Salt Flats of Utah, a five-day event that takes place in one of the most unique environments on the planet.

The Salt Flats consist of 159 square miles of glistening white salt as magnificently barren as any place you have ever seen. In the midst of the salt is 30,000 acres where you will find "The Track." It is 11 miles long, and because the Salt Flats are the only place on the planet where you can actually see the curvature of the earth, you can't see both ends. (Someone should have told Columbus-it could have saved him a trip.)

The pit area is about a 5-mile drive off the asphalt. As you approach, it rises out of the salt through the waves of heat like the town of Lago in the Clint Eastwood classic High Plains Drifter. As you draw closer, you see an entire village of pop-up canopies and a couple of motorhomes where the salt people live. Curiously absent from the village are vendors. The Wendover Fire Department, on hand to grill hamburgers and hot dogs, is the only one. Understand, this is not your normal motorcycle event. Don't bother to look for new leathers, curly fries, a set of pipes, or a silly hat with bells on it, because you won't find it here. You see, if it doesn't go fast, it has no place in the salt village.

The salt people are a curious lot. You probably know and have read about many of them, but when you meet them in this environment, you may think they went to sleep with a pod next to their bed. Matt Hotch and Roger Goldhammer were here to compete in a Biker Build-Off show for the Discovery Channel. Matt built a magnificent Vincent to commemorate the machines' dominance in speed circles over the years, but gleaming chrome and paint schemes were not the focus here. He spent hours dialing in the Vincent because this event was about speed. Paint and chrome won't make you go faster.

While Roger's starting platform may have had its roots in the dirt (a 250cc Honda dirtbike), by the time he was done it was all custom and ran more than 127 mph. It ended up riding away with the BBO trophy. Roger committed to returning to the Salt without all the cameras. The Salt is an addiction, and he's got it bad.

V-Twins were a huge part of the week, and they came in all shapes and sizes, from Sportsters with turbos and blowers all the way up to Denis "Bub" Manning's BUB No. 7, the seventh streamliner he's built. In fact, of the 51 records that were broken or set, 23 went to V-Twins: Harley-Davidson, Buell, Indian, and S&S.; In the case of the King of the Salt, Bub Manning, he pushed through with a ground-up, 24-foot-long, turbocharged, 158ci, double-overhead-cam, liquid-cooled V-4 that generates close to 500 horsepower.

Brian Klock of Klock Werks Kustoms came to play with the bagger that he built for a Biker Build-Off against Jay Hart (Brian won, by the way). Since it had a straight-up 124-inch S&S; with B-2 heads and a Baker direct-drive six-speed, Brian felt the bike was ready. He chose Laura Ellifson to pilot the bike. OK, maybe he didn't choose her; maybe she just told him she was going to do it. Laura is Brian's partner and girlfriend at Klock Werks Kustoms, and she piloted the bagger to a national land-speed record of 143.686 mph in the 3000-MPS-PG class. They now own the world's fastest bagger.

Talk to Laura about the Salt, and you'll know in the first three minutes that she is now consumed by it, as are her two daughters, who also feel the need for speed. Brian may really have his hands full building Salt bikes, especially because he surprised Laura at the Bonneville banquet by proposing on bended knee in front of 400 of their new best friends. Fortunately, she agreed. We didn't hear her say yes, but a nod through the tears seemed to be enough for Brian. We called them and proposed that the nuptials should be held next year at the flats. Though hesitating slightly, she didn't say no. Maybe another first on the Salt?

Keith "Bandit" Ball of Bikernet.com organized 5-Ball Racing with the express purpose of an assault on the Salt. He was part of the Easyriders team that has held the absolute motorcycle land-speed record since 1990 at 322 mph on a bike piloted by Dave Campos. Bandit never quite got the salt out of his system; he hit the flats with a Custom Chrome V-Bike frame and an Accurate Engineering Outlaw 120 panhead, and dubbed the finished product the "Salt Shaker." Placing Valerie Thompson, a rising star on the All Harley Drag Racing circuit, at the handlebars paid big dividends. She and 5-Ball Racing now own a national land-speed record in the 1,350cc pushrod/fuel class at 141.465 mph and the title of "World's Fastest Panhead." Valerie has her sights set on the 200-mph club, and Berry at Accurate Engineering has again signed on to make it happen. Watch for the Bikernet.com "Assault Weapon" next year.

Chop N Grind, those salt-snortin' bastards, were also there. Pilot Larry Petrie pushed a team-owned bike through the traps at a record 148.307 mph for a new record in the 1650-M-PG class, hitting more than 150 mph on one pass. Bob Tronolone and the boys will definitely be back.

The crown jewel of the weekend was up for grabs. The absolute motorcycle land-speed record had stood since 1990. Dave Campos, who was in attendance, and the Easyriders crew had held the record for 16 years-hard to believe in this day and age. Three streamliners had a shot at the record: a twin-engine Hayabusa designed and built by Mike Akatiff and piloted by Rocky Robinson; the EZ Hook Streamliner powered by a turbocharged Kawasaki ZX-11 and piloted by Sam Wheeler; and the BUB No. 7, designed and built by Denis "Bub" Manning and piloted by Chris Carr, seven-time Grand National Dirt Track Champion. Would the new Prince of the Salt come from the dirt?

On Sunday (Day One), Rocky, riding the Top One Ack Attack, blew the 16-year-old record out of the water on his first pass with a speed of 344.673 mph and a return pass of 340.922 for a new record of 342.797, improving the record by a full 20 mph (to break or set a record, you must make two passes within two hours and average the speeds for the record). The salt people were elated. The question in everyone's mind, however, was, "Would it hold up for the next four days?" In a word, no.

Chris Carr and the BUB No. 7 would make their initial (and only) complete pass on Tuesday. Rocky Robinson and the Top One Ack Attack had held the record for two days. Chris, fresh off the dirt flat track, made his first pass at 354.832 mph. That's more than 500 feet per second, or a football field every 6/10s of a second. Chris and Bub were stunned, but a record ain't a record 'til you back it up. Chris had two hours to make his return pass. Several bikes made their return pass as the villagers waited. The damp air became thick with anticipation, and the crowd was getting restless. He needed a pass somewhere over the 331-mph mark to better Rocky Robinson's new record. Then the announcement came: "No. 7 is staged," followed by "No. 7 is on the course." We love this part. This isn't Indy with 250,000 fans or a NASCAR race with more rednecks drinking PBR than you can shake a stick at. This is the Salt, a village full of speed purists numbering only in the hundreds. Then came what we had all been waiting for: "The rider has entered the mile"...the mile...sacred ground for a salt racer. The Bub No. 7 literally flew by the pit area, and those gathered there knew it was special. Then came the confirmation of that special feeling-"No. 7, speed 346.937 mph, for an average of 350.884 mph." There was a new Prince of the Salt, and he actually did come from the dirt.

There would be a chess game played out over the next couple of days. The Ack Attack would make a few attempts to regain the record, and No. 7 would stay prepared to match each attempt if the record was broken again. However, the Ack Attack could not overcome mechanical problems and a bout with the wind.

The gods of the salt had smiled on Denis Manning. Sam Wheeler made one pass at 355.303 mph, but due to a flat tire and no spare, he could not make the return pass within the two-hour time limit.

It is now a cliffhanger reminiscent of who shot J.R. What will happen next Labor Day weekend? Can Sam Wheeler and the EZ Hook (the fastest man on the flats) make two full passes? Will King Bub defend his crown? Will Prince Carr stay loyal to the crown? Will Rocky Robinson and the Ack Attack show up to regain what was theirs for that one fleeting moment? You'll just have to wait 'til next season to find out.

This was as amazing an event as we've ever attended. It's our humble opinion that this will become the premier event for the motorcycle purist, the speed junkie.

The week lends itself to several articles, as every team at the event had a story. We met more interesting people than we could count, including Sonny Angel, who has made 49 trips to the Salt since 1954 to run the same '47 Vincent. There are names that need to have their story told to a massive audience, such as California Fritz and Wink Eller (Wink set a record of 178.678 mph on a bike with a sidecar). Jay Allen, owner of the Broken Spoke Saloon, and Samantha "Sam" Morgan of the Wall of Death set class records on a Harley and an Indian, respectively.

We saw a 50cc motorcycle do more than 130 mph (think about that the next time you start your lawnmower). There is a whole series that could be written about Dnnis "Bub" Manning who, along with his daughter-in-law Delvene Manning, hosted this whole event. Bub was just inducted into the AMA Hall of Fame and is a legend in landspeed racing circles.

Suffice it to say, we will be in attendance next year. Last year, 95 entries made passes on the Salt. This year there were more than 160 entries making over 400 passes. Next year, who knows? What we do know is that you should be there.

For more information on land-speed racing, go to www.landracing.com or www.speedtrialsbybub.com.